Einstein on Science and Religion
Posted by Ram Kumar Shrestha on August 25, 2012
[Einstein is not only the Greatest Scientist, but also Great saint. We should not hesitate to claim this from his writes up.]
The Meaning of Life
This excerpt is taken from Einstein’s book The World as I See It, p. 1. It is the first essay in the book, and the shortest as well
What is the meaning of human life, or of organic life altogether? To answer this question at all implies a religion. Is there any sense then, you ask, in putting it? I answer, the man who regards his own life and that of his fellow creatures as meaningless is not merely unfortunate but almost disqualified for life.
Further Words on the Meaning of Life
The following excerpt is taken from Hoffman and Dukas, pp. 26 – 27.
This excerpt is a letter written by Einstein in response to a 19-year-old Rutger’s University student, who had written to Einstein of his despair at seeing no visible purpose to life and no help from religion. In responding to this poignant cry for help, Einstein offered no easy solace, and this very fact must have heartened the student and lightened the lonely burden of his doubts.
Here is Einstein’s response. It was written in English and sent from Princeton on 3 December 1950, within days of receiving the letter:
I was impressed by the earnestness of your struggle to find a purpose for the life of the individual and of mankind as a whole. In my opinion there can be no reasonable answer if the question is put this way.
If we speak of the purpose and goal of an action we mean simply the question: which kind of desire should we fulfill by the action or its consequences or which undesired consequences should be prevented? We can, of course, also speak in a clear way of the goal of an action from the standpoint of a community to which the individual belongs. In such cases the goal of the action has also to do at least indirectly with fulfillment of desires of the individuals which constitute a society.
If you ask for the purpose or goal of society as a whole or of an individual taken as a whole the question loses its meaning. This is, of course, even more so if you ask the purpose or meaning of nature in general. For in those cases it seems quite arbitrary if not unreasonable to assume somebody whose desires are connected with the happenings.
Nevertheless we all feel that it is indeed very reasonable and important to ask ourselves how we should try to conduct our lives. The answer is, in my opinion: satisfaction of the desires and needs of all, as far as this can be achieved, and achievement of harmony and beauty in the human relationships. This presupposes a good deal of conscious thought and of self-education.
It is undeniable that the enlightened Greeks and the old Oriental sages had achieved a higher level in this all-important field than what is alive in our schools and universities.
The 1933 photograph of Einstein at a pacifist conference comes from Louie de Broglie et al..
On Ego, Consciousness, and “Eternal Life”
For further quotations on these topics, see Einstein’s comments on the soul.
It is a good thing that this individual life has an end with all its conflicts and problems. … Those who brought about the belief that the individual continues to live after death must have been very sorry people indeed.
— From a letter of condolence upon the death of Einstein’s brother-in-law. See Goldman, p.89.
… nor would I want to conceive of an individual that survives his physical death ; let feeble souls, from fear or absurd egoism, cherish such thoughts. I am satisfied with the mystery of the eternity of life … (clearly Einstein means here the eternity of life as a whole, rather than the life of an individual – ed.)
— See Goldman, footnote p.93.
I believe the mind is immortal in the same sense as the body for it is difficult to doubt that the capacity to build living bodies and consciousness is connected with matter. But I see no justification to extend personality beyond the span of life of the individual. (Goldman sees a change in tone between this quotation and the preceding one; but I find each quotation consistent with the other. – ed.)
— See Goldman, footnote pp. 92 – 93.
We know consciousness as the essential part of our ego and by analogy as the essential part of other egos. The poverty of our expression does not show us more of it. We can only guess and even this guessing does not have a clear meaning to our thought. There seems to be no other attitude than humility and modesty. The only thing I am feeling strongly about is: It seems foolish to extend our personality beyond our life in both directions and we do not know what consciousness means outside the frame of the personality.
— See Goldman, p.91.
On the Ego
The fact that man produces a concept “I” besides the totality of his mental and emotional experiences or perceptions does not prove that there must be any specific existence behind such a concept. We are succumbing to illusions produced by our self-created language, without reaching a better understanding of anything. Most of so-called philosophy is due to this kind of fallacy.
— See Goldman, p.89.
Einstein’s conclusion here seems very close to the Buddha’s concept of anatman. But as Einstein wrote:
The more deeply philosophical doctrines, as far as questions of existence are concerned, are thought about, the less different they are from each other.
See Goldman p. 87. – the ed.